Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The President is schooled.

Frequently heard conventional wisdom on the left attributes the poor Democratic election performance to a bad economy and disenchanted liberal voters staying home. The logical inference of that wisdom is that an improving economy and a "stay the course" liberal agenda for this administration is all that is needed to restore the Obama coalition to its 2008 glory. Last week, Anne Kim and Stefan Hawkin of Third Way and Lincoln Park Strategies released a post-election survey that tested the conventional wisdom and found it wanting (H/T Tully):

Politico - Who really abandoned Dems?
The Obama voters who stayed home this year (the “droppers”) or who switched their vote to Republican (the “switchers”) are neither disgruntled and de-motivated liberals. Nor are they raging tea partiers. Rather, they are overwhelmingly moderate to moderate conservative. Bipartisanship is what they demand. And the role of government, deficits and the economy are their major concerns. In a post-election survey by Third Way and Lincoln Park Strategies, we polled 500 droppers and 500 switchers. Our findings make one point clear: The path to regaining or retaining power for both parties isn’t toward the right or left. It’s from the center out...

Switchers are unhappy about deficits. The top-ranked reason cited by switchers for voting Republican was “too much government spending” (66 percent cited this). And while 64 percent of switchers say deficits are a “serious problem that are weakening the economy,” three in four don’t think Democrats are either “serious about reducing the deficit” or “responsible with taxpayer dollars.”
The survey - "Droppers” and “Switchers”: The Fraying Obama Coalition"
66% of switchers say “too much government spending” was a major reason for their decision not to vote Democratic this year. This is the number-one ranked factor switchers gave in our poll.
  • 64% of switchers say deficits are a “serious problem that areweakening the economy” (versus 32% who say “deficits are a concernbut we have more pressing priorities”).
  • 76% don’t think Democrats are “serious about reducing the deficit.”
  • 78% don’t think Democrats are “responsible with taxpayer dollars.”
In fact, 68% of switchers say they would be more likely to support President Obama in 2012 if he offered a serious proposal to reduce the deficit.
Apparently President Obama and his political brain trust were indeed diligently taking notes while getting seriously schooled in the midterms. Good. On Monday President Obama announced a Federal employee pay freeze for non-military employees. On Tuesday he met with congressional leadership and assured the American people that he heard the voice of the voters:
"The American people did not vote for gridlock. They didn’t vote for unyielding partisanship. They’re demanding cooperation and they’re demanding progress. And they’ll hold all of us –- and I mean all of us –- accountable for it. And I was very encouraged by the fact that there was broad recognition of that fact in the room. I just want to say I thought it was a productive meeting. I thought that people came to it with a spirit of trying to work together. And I think it’s a good start as we move forward. I think everybody understands that the American people want us to focus on their jobs, not ours. They want us to come together around strategies to accelerate the recovery and get Americans back to work. They want us to confront the long-term deficits that cloud our future."
The Dividist has one quibble with the President's statement. While technically true that the American people may not have voted specifically for gridlock, and while he is also correct they would prefer bipartisan cooperation on controlling spending, they did clearly show they'll happily take gridlock over the kind of crappy and stupidly expensive steamrolled partisan legislation that passed in the last Congress. But, in the bipartisan spirit of taking a bipartisan hatchet to a slashed bipartisan budget, we'll overlook that nit.

Minutes after the President's statement, the co-chairs of his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform had a press conference to announce that their final report on a deficit cutting plan will be delivered on Wednesday and voted on Friday. Regarding the vote, the Democratic co-chair Erskine Bowles said " ... that whatever happens, the commission will have achieved "victory" by starting a national conversation about the federal debt. 'The era of deficit denial in Washington is over,' the North Carolinian and former Clinton White House chief of staff drawled." The Dividist agrees.

In three days, the top three stories out of Washington are all about fiscal responsibility, controlling spending and deficits. President Obama and the President's commission are leading the charge. Real, meaty, substantial proposals are being put on the table. If it were not for wikileaks, this is all we would be talking about, and that is a very good thing.

The Dividist is practically giddy with excitement and in danger of losing his cynicism. He suspects we going to make real progress this time. Now, the Dividist hastens to add that he is not delusional. If done correctly, it will be contentious, noisy, the air will be filled with partisan cries, lamentations, the rending of garments and the bellowing of gored ox. Likely, the Dividist will be among those gnashing teeth, tearing hair, and complaining bitterly about whatever makes it out of the sausage grinder. But at least we appear to be starting down a path to some semblance of what passes for fiscal responsibility in Washington D.C.

There is one simple reason for optimism: The President and political advisers understand his re-election in 2012 depends on restraining spending and the deficit. Republicans in Congress understand their re-election and majorities in the House and Senate in 2012 depend on it. Even some Democrats in Congress understand their re-election in 2012 depends on it. David Axelrod thinks it important enough to ramp up the Audacity of Astroturf troops mere days after the mid-term. Hey - it worked for Obamacare.

Not all on the left agree. Some still in denial, found the President's initiative to be vexing, a capitulation, an ineffectual ploy, bad negotiations, symbolic, doublespeak, blasphemy, stupid, gutless, cretinous, anti-union, pointless, a sellout and a blunder (among other things).

OTOH, those that "get it" understand exactly how damaging this chart was to Obama and the Democratic Party in the midterms. Private sector jobs were lost by the millions, but under this administration public sector jobs (that pay better with greater security than the private sector) were protected. Given the close relationship and massive financial support the Democrats and Obama received from public sector unions like SEIU, it just did not look good. Voters were angry. With the help of letter from a reader, even Ezra Klein gets it now (almost).

Republicans will predictably say that it is weak gruel, and does not go far enough. But, it is a start. Given the depth of the hole our pols dug for us over the last ten years, a real start is exactly what we need. Thank you Mr. President. If you stay on this path, you may even get re-elected, and we can keep our happily divided government.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.


Tully said...

As I said when I tipped you, what I found most telling was the left-sided origin of the study. Yeah. They really get it! They may not agree with it, mind you, but they understand the motivation and know they can't ignore the 800-pound gorilla at the party. It's NOT going to just go away when the beer runs out.

Today's revelation that huge chunks of TARP went to Euro-banks isn't going to help them in the floor fight.

I'm not parking my cynicism yet. Experience argues for caution. If nothing else, as you note, progress is still gonna hurt in the short run. And it sure won't be pretty. But my kids and their kids (if any) will benefit.

mw said...

Yeah, you do not want to be around those 800 pound gorillas when the beer runs out.

Thanks for the tip, I also cross posted this at the Donk. Not as much commentary as I would expect. I think the whole blogosphere is somewhat muted since the election as progressives continue to adjust to life in a not-center-left country they thought they left behind.